June 2, 2017

Penny Harter


When the drunk neighbor across the tracks beats his dog again, the primal howling jerks us from a dreamless sleep. Once I used binoculars to see what manner of man yells Shut the fuck up! at a dog.

after the fire—
an acrid stench haloes
the burnt trees

How convenient for this man to have a dog. How practiced they both are at it—the dog on a short chain cowering behind his doghouse, the man descending the back stairs with yet another chain wrapped around his fist.

repeated whistle
of the midnight freight—
headlight bearing down

from Rattle #55, Spring 2017


Penny Harter: “One late winter afternoon in the early 1960s, while sitting in the Douglass College library, I happened on a Conrad Aiken poem capturing a similar late winter afternoon, and time stood still. I was transfixed. I did not yet know I would be a poet, although the following spring I chose Emerson’s essay ‘The Poet’ for an American literature course paper. Then, in the late 1960s, while waiting in a school parking lot for my then-husband to come out from an after-school meeting, I grabbed a dry cleaner slip from my purse and began to write on the back of it a poem about how quickly the brilliant sunset was fading between the dark branches of a winter tree. It was the first poem I had to write—and when I held the finished poem, I felt something I’d not felt before: a passion! From that time on, I’ve never stopped. I write about what matters most to me, hoping that my poems can reach out and touch others. I write poems for the Earth and our planet in the cosmos; poems of memory and family; and poems probing the riddle of time, hoping to capture our shared experiences of love and loss. I have written to chart my grief at the loss of my husband in October 2008. And recently, to process my journey through cancer and successful chemotherapy this past year. Above all, I write because I must.” (website)

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July 4, 2013

Penny Harter


On weekends when the woman walks up hills, she does it to see the sun. At sea level, thick smog obliterates the sky, a gray and toxic smothering. Despite the altitude, once she gets above it she breathes easier. She has not seen such a blue sky from down below since childhood.

masquerade party—
strangers crowding into
a downtown loft

When she tries to get some of her co-workers from the factory to climb with her, they merely laugh. “But you can see the sun,” she exclaims. “And the sky is blue!” Her friends prefer the mall or the movies, so she climbs alone.

shooting star—
how briefly its wake
marks the dark

Years pass, and she has to climb higher and higher. Having retired, she can climb more often, but it’s slower going now. One day when she arrives above the timber line, stumbling among rocks shining with lichen, she is breathing in stabbing gasps. Soon she will be too old for this, she thinks. Head spinning, she clings to a nearby boulder and stares up into the blazing heavens. Then she looks down at the tide of gray creeping up the slopes. She knows it is only a question of time until she will be forced to go up and up.

moon colony—
again, the supply ship
arrives late

from Rattle #38, Winter 2012
Tribute to Speculative Poetry

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